(July 21) LAKELAND, Fla. — Going against the state’s large citrus grower organizations, members of the Florida Citrus Commission voted to increase per-box taxes on fresh grapefruit and processed citrus.

In a nod to the state’s fresh packinghouse industry, the commission also decided to lower its assessments on fresh oranges and specialty citrus from 20 cents a box to 16 cents a box.

The grapefruit hike will help promote Florida’s grapefruit alongside diet and exercise guru Bob Greene, Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer.

The commission, which governs the Florida Department of Citrus’ marketing campaigns, July 19 increased the rates packinghouses pay for fresh grapefruit from 25 cents a box to 35 cents a box.

The assessments cover all fruit marketed during the 2006-2007 season.

A trade organization representing the state’s fresh packers in June asked the commission to turn half of the 20 cent per-box assessment applied to fresh oranges and tangerines to Florida Citrus Packers Inc. so the fresh industry could fund its own fresh-specific variety development and market promotions.

The department staff recommended cutting the assessment to 16 cents a box and providing $475,000 in funding for fresh variety research.

The new rate would also include $400,000 for targeted in-store marketing of fresh oranges in February and March at supermarkets east of the Mississippi River. Details of the program will be worked out by mid-August, said Leigh Killeen, the department’s domestic marketing manager.

Florida Citrus Packers executive vice president Richard Kinney said he’s happy that the state may support more fresh promotions.

“They certainly have an interest in working with us,” Kinney said. “It doesn’t settle the issue, but it’s a big step toward addressing some of our issues.”

Representatives of Florida Citrus Mutual, the Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach, and the Gulf Citrus Growers Association Inc., LaBelle, recommended the commission keep rates for fresh grapefruit and processed citrus at their current levels and instead try to rework marketing programs.

“All the big ones (grower groups) got slam-dunked,” said Doug Bournique, the Indian River Citrus League’s executive vice president. “It’s a rare day when we all stand up and say we support a tax rate at a certain level.”

If the state left the fresh grapefruit rate at 25 cents, the department would likely not have enough money to provide any significant grapefruit promotions for 2007, Killeen said.

Though he said he is sympathetic to shippers’ costs increasing, Raphord Farrington, vice president of Ben Hill Griffin Inc., Frostproof, Fla., said the industry needs to market its products.

“The 25-cent rate with no domestic advertising is totally unacceptable,” Farrington said. “We have got to keep this domestic market alive and keep building it. If this industry doesn’t do something to move this volume, there won’t be any returns.”